The 2016 ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue Enters Virtual Reality

I’m a lucky guy. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I’m sharing a beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic with swimsuit model Nina Agdal. I’ve had worse days, is what I’m getting at.

But none of this is real. Instead, I’m sitting in a chair at Time Inc.’s offices with a goofy cardboard box on my face, checking out the 2016 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue’s new virtual reality app.

And you thought this whole virtual reality thing was just a phase.

SI’s VR app is just the latest attempt in the magazine’s campaign to keep its swimsuit issue fresh at a time when models can post photos from their latest photo shoots to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook every day.

Available today as a free download for Android and iOS, the SI app is an attempt to keep the swimsuit issue brand relevant throughout the year rather than just in the winter when the magazine traditionally comes out.

The app features four main sections: “Swimsuit Issue 2016” gives you access to all of the 2016 issue’s shots, while “Collection” serves as a library of all the previous models who have appeared in the issue over the years, as well as a number of their photos. “Swim Daily” imports content from Sports Illustrated’s Swim Daily blog (including photos, news, and updates on what the models have been up to recently).

Then there’s the “Virtual” section, which will probably be one of the biggest draws for the app. This feature lets you strap on a Google Cardboard-style VR headset and watch two- to three-minute clips of Agdal and former cover models Hannah Davis and Irina Shayk doing their thing on a beach in the Dominican Republic.

Some of the clips show the models posing and staring directly at the camera, which gives the whole experience a more intimate feeling. Other clips see you standing in the center of their photo shoots, with the models in front of you and the entire crew to your back.

In one clip, if you look close enough at the cliff above the crew, you can make out some of the folks who were watching the shoot as it was happening.

To be completely honest, the VR feature felt a bit odd. At one point, Agdal walks you through how you’re supposed to navigate the app — while she’s in a bathing suit, of course — and I found myself almost compelled to reply to her instructions.

I didn’t, because that would just be weird, but still…

Naturally, Sports Illustrated isn’t just giving this content away. Downloading the app gets you access to a good amount of galleries from the 2016 issue and the “Collections” section, as well as a handful of VR clips. If you want access to all of the 2016 issue’s content and the entire VR catalog, you’ll have to fork over $4.99. If you only want the VR content, you’ll have to pay just $1.99. Of course, if you’re an SI subscriber, you’ll get everything for free.

Sports Illustrated will also sell 500,000 premium newsstand editions of the swimsuit issue, complete with a foldable cardboard VR headset.

In order to use the VR feature, you’ll need an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus or newer handset running iOS 9 and above. If you’re an Android user, Sports Illustrated told me you should have a newer handset running Android 5.0.1 or higher.

The 2016 issue goes on sale today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back to the beach.

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